How many businesses have a global contagion item in their business continuity plan? I bet you you the answer is pretty small. The result of this reality is that we are all needing to make very rapid changes, without an existing plan to stay in business. We are introducing a staggering amount of risk, because we need to. The next step we need to take is to start taking control of these changes, make solid plans, and keep out IT infrastructures safe from data loss and criminal elements.
The first question you were asked when you told someone they now needed to work from home for the short term: “How am I connecting to the network, and what can I do?” Here are a couple of the possible options to consider, and implications with each:
- Staff are connecting to their office desktop and using their access from there to do their job. This is a pretty ideal option, as it allows you to use the security you have already implemented, all the files stay within the network, and the user gets a consistent experience. This does require a decision on how you will connect to that workstation, and how you will scale that to all of your remote users. This could include VPNs and Remote Desktop, or dedicated tool like TeamViewer.
- You have a VPN and the the staff are going to connect to the network, and access files and applications through it. This is also a really good option, but does require that all applications the user needs be installed on the computer they have at their home, and also increases the likelihood that files will leave your network and land on their computers, making confidential information harder to contain. Security of the staff computer becomes more important.
- You utilize cloud services for your applications and file storage. If this is your scenario you have already spent time considering confidential data, and user access to it, and have very little to do on the infrastructure side, but you will need to focus on keeping the user’s computers safe and secure, and helping them keep their credentials safe.
A risk that often gets overlooked is the assets that have left the office. It is critical to track what users have taken home with them, and determine the risk to your data of those items being outside of the building. If a user was to have their work computer stolen that would be pretty bad, and you know that the data stored on it, and the physical device are both included in the loss. In the case of a laptop bag, the damage to the business is only the cost of the item, but when you extend that to monitors, or office chairs, those costs can get high. Document everything a user takes home, and have them verify the list, and then when they return, use that same checklist to verify. Utilizing asset tags will make this process a lot simpler.
Effective communication is critical for any business to operate. Some may feel that email is a sufficient medium, but I strongly believe that it is too restrictive to be used when users are being isolated from each other. A product like Microsoft Teams, allows users to chat in real time, create different channels to structure the chats, utilize apps for collaboration, like Word or Excel, video conference, and even socialize. For a user who is suddenly being required to stay home and remain isolated, there can be a strong reaction. Giving everyone a system to maintain some of those social interactions will prevent them from finding their own solution, in a less secure forum.
You will need to provide as much security training to your staff as possible. Within your office they are being protected by your infrastructure, now that they are at home without those resources they may find themselves at a much higher level of risk. Teach your users about phishing, and other avenues of attack they are going to face, so they know how to respond and who to communicate with when they suspect they are under attack. If they can identify and alert your IT team to an attack early, it will be significantly less impactful to the business as a whole.
Discuss with your IT team your network bandwidth, and Internet Service level, as these may not be sufficient for the increase in data consumption. If you are currently experiencing this issue, users will complain about lag, or really slow email, or maybe they are being disconnected frequently. Obviously this is not conducive to good business and needs to be addressed. First check with your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and see what theycan do for you. In many cases your bandwidth throttle is easily configured and adjustable. You may need to bring a second Internet connection into the office and implement load balancing between them to maintain a good quality of service. Or you may need to adjust some staff working hours to ensure that you spread the usage out over the day, instead of 30 people trying to login at 8 am.
Previously I mentioned accessing your network via a VPN, and I wanted to give you some clarity on why that is a really good idea. The biggest advantage to a VPN is that it creates a secure communication channel between a user and the business network, regardless of how secure their home network is, your information is secure. Additionally, you maintain control of what websites the user can access, and even when they can access certain resources. You can reduce the amount of external exposure your network has by limiting the number of inbound communication ports. Lastly it allows you to monitor their traffic to detect problems on their computer, like Ransomware, attempting to encrypt your files. A VPN will give your IT team the best chances of managing your newly external staff.
Since we are talking about encryption, the last point I wanted to make is to recommend you use a tool like Bitlocker to encrypt the hard drives of the computers outside of the office. Utilizing a tool like BitLocker helps ensure that if a device is stolen the data stored on the hard drive remains virtually inaccessible. If your users need to use external data drives, you can also use BitLocker to secure those devices as well, keeping your data safely unusable.
With the most business facing a need to send a vast majority of their users to work from home with very little notice, I thought it would be an opportune time to showcase some of the items you need to think about to keep your network secure. Because of the rapid nature of these changes many shortcuts are being taken, and unintentionally the level of risk is increasing. The criminals involved in computer crimes typically become more active during a major incident, like a natural disaster, as it is when users are most vulnerable. Hopefully by highlighting some of the areas you need to attend to will keep you safe in these coming months.